This story was updated to include statements from the South Dakota Department of Health after the story was first published.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s been one month since the South Dakota Department of Health closed down three Family Planning programs at clinics in Mobridge, Lemmon and Burke. The closure caused a desert for people needing reproductive health care, leaving some forced to travel up to 100 miles to receive low-cost care. 

“Bottom line, nobody should have to travel for basic health care, especially if you’re already someone who is in an impoverished community,” ACLU of South Dakota Advocacy Manager Samantha Chapman said. 

The Department of Health started the South Dakota Family Planning Program to provide low-cost reproductive healthcare for people in rural South Dakota, including birth control plans, counseling for people who want to start a family, gynecologist referrals and STI screenings. At the Family Planning clinics, patients pay on a sliding scale fee, which is often significantly less than standard hospitals. 

“If you’re seeking low to no cost family planning services, chances are you don’t have the means or the ability to travel,” Chapman said. 

In an emailed statement to KELOLAND News on Thursday, Department of Health Marketing Director Tia Kafka, said the DOH is constantly analyzing where certain services are needed and where they have the biggest impact.

“As a result of that evaluation, the decision was made to focus on clinics in other areas of the state where there is a higher need and demand for services,” she said.

Last month, the director for the Family Planning Program sent a letter to patients of Walworth County Public Health Alliance in Mobridge, informing them that the program would no longer be available starting August 1. The letter said all patient care would be transferred to other locations and named Aberdeen and Eagle Butte as the closest clinics. 

There’s just one problem, the drive from Mobridge to the Aberdeen clinic is 100 miles away.  

MacKenzie Walsh-Keeley is a registered nurse at Horizon Aberdeen Community Health Center. Walsh-Keeley said she’s seen an uptick in patients looking for reproductive health care after the other clinics closed their program.

“We’ve been much busier since they closed,” she said.” All those patients that were in the family program there have come over here now.”

Chapman said the consequences of eliminating affordable access to reproductive healthcare will be more unplanned pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  

“The results are going to be higher maternal mortality rates and higher infant mortality rates,” she said. “We know that adequate prenatal care is one of the biggest indicators of successful infant care. If we don’t have those options available for low-income folks, they’re put in a really bad position.”